I recently received an e-mail from an agnostic friend and thought that some of his questions were very good ones. I would like to make my responses public. His statements were made in response to C.S. Lewis' essay "Man or Rabbit," a plea for intellectual honesty. Lewis is calling people to be intellectually honest. If Christianity is true, we must be Christians. If abortion is wrong, we must outlaw it. We cannot live lies or do immoral things.
Lewis makes a second point in his essay.
The idea of reaching "a good life" without Christ is based on a double error. Firstly, we cannot do it; and secondly, in setting up "a good life" as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence.
The atheist asks if he can live a good life without God, thus missing the meaning of life which is union with God. The atheist doesn't know what life is about because he or she denies that there is God to be one with.
Lots of people think that Christianity is about morals, but I want to stress that it is not. It is about union with God. This article from Traces magazine, put out by Communion and Liberation, treats of this topic. At the funeral of their founder, our Holy Father, while still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, spoke on this topic as well. The text can be found here. One key text is
In this way, he understood that Christianity is not an intellectual system, a packet of dogmas, a moralism, Christianity is rather an encounter, a love story; it is an event.
The goal is not the doctrine or the morals but Christ. Doctrine explains how to act, and the act brings us to Christ.
Keeping this in mind, it becomes clear that the purpose of Mass is not to be told how to live but to be drawn closer to Christ. The Mass is a prayer of worship to the Father which Christ offers to Him through the priest. The homily, therefore, is not supposed to tell us how to live per say but to draw us closer to Christ. Sometimes this involves morals.
My friend raised the question of whether having an external source to speak to us about morality is necessary. I would have to say yes. Without the external source, morality can become simply my opinion on morality, not what I know the truth of morality to be. My friend, who is pro-life, knows how many people are wrong on this question. Similarly, the Scriptures tell us that we are set free from the law. This does not mean we are free to disobey it but to, by the power of the Holy Spirit, have our wills drawn into conformity with it. Many times we do not understand why we should avoid a certain act until after we give it up. While my friend is possibly free from the law that says we shouldn't commit adultery (something obvious to most people), it takes Christ and His Church to tell us that lusting is the same as committing adultery in our hearts. We need to be called to a higher standard sometimes.
Furthermore, I would add that many times that the atheist, because he has closed himself off to the grace of God, cannot begin to overcome immorality. We all know what can be called "the problem of human freedom." We fail to do the good we want to do and we do the evil we don't want to do. If we look hard enough, we can all find in ourselves a bad habit we have tried to overcome but cannot.
Lastly, he asks why the Gospels call the faithful sheep and Jesus the Good Shepherd. Looking at the image, we see how the lamb is carried on the shoulders of Christ. Those who are shepherds recognize this. In order to teach the sheep to stay close to the shepherd and recognize his voice, a lamb has its legs broken. It learns to rely on the shepherd as he carries the lamb around. We are very much like this sheep. Our Lord spiritually breaks our legs. We learn to hear His voice and listen to His word. We learn His voice and we learn to follow Him. We walk with Him. He leads us home, to the Father's house. Most importantly, like a shepherd, He takes care of us.